Should They Stay or Go?
There have been several recent articles about the Ravens’ 12 Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA) and the prospects of their return. At Russell Street Report, we’ve decided to pool our resources and our varying areas of expertise to provide a different treatment of the Ravens’ pending free agents
CB Brandon Boykin (UFA)
2017 Key Stats: Spent the entire 2017 season on Injured Reserve (IR).
Ken McKusick: Boykin was signed as a stopgap at slot CB when Tavon Young was injured during OTAs. Fortunately, the Ravens got high-quality play from both Maurice Canady and Jaylen Hill after an uneven first half from Lardarius Webb. Boykin never played a snap for the Ravens and won’t be missed. I expect his NFL career is now over at age 27.
Dev Panchwagh: At the time of the Boykin signing, it looked like a potential sneaky move. Boykin at one point in time (it seems like a long, long time ago) was one of the better slot corners in the league. However, he ended up being a complete lost cause. The Ravens could certainly use some additional slot corner depth given the health of Young and the relatively raw play from Canady. But they can find that elsewhere.
Cap Implications/Costs (Brian McFarland): Boykin signed a Minimum Salary Benefit deal in 2017 and received no bonus. If he signs somewhere in 2018, he’ll likely get no more than the same minimum salaried deal.
Tony’s Take (Tony Lombardi): The Ravens could be a bit thin in the secondary from a depth perspective when camp opens in July depending upon the recoveries of Jimmy Smith and Jaylen Hill. The team does get a boost with the return of corner Tavon Young, who had a very solid rookie campaign in 2016. The Ravens will add some depth to the back end of their defense but Boykin and his diminishing skill set won’t be among the additions. The draft or cap casualties from other rosters is where the Ravens will look. There’s a reason this former Georgia Bulldog has bounced around between five clubs since the Eagles called his name with the 123rd pick of the 2012 NFL Draft.
G/C Luke Bowanko (UFA)
2017 Key Stats: 16 games, 1 start; 8.29% of Off Snaps.
Ken: Bowanko had 88 scored snaps at G and as a TE (6th lineman) with a C average. It’s not inconceivable he’ll be back as a backup G/C, but the Ravens should have better options and he doesn’t have the anchor the Ravens need to play C in the AFC North.
Dev: Echoing Ken here, Bowanko could actually be a viable backup C. Center remains a position in flux. Even if Jensen is brought back, the team doesn’t have a proven backup who can man the position. The Ravens could and should find better depth through the draft, though.
Cap Implications/Costs: Acquired via a trade with Jacksonville on cut down day, Bowanko earned $690K on the final year of his rookie contract. Wherever he signs, Bowanko will likely only receive a 1-year, minimum salary deal in 2018.
Tony’s Take: Bowanko could be just another body in camp if the Ravens get him for the vet minimum without guarantees, as Brian suggests. He’s a bit too lean to play center in the AFC North and at guard his athleticism fails to overcompensate for his lack of raw power. That said, it won’t be a shocker to see this Bowie, MD native giving it another go this summer in Owings Mills.
WR Michael Campanaro (UFA)
2017 Key Stats: 13 games, 0 starts; 19 receptions, 123 yards, 1 TD; 5 carries, 42 yards, 0 TDs; 24.15% of Off Snaps.
2016 Key Stats: 3 games, 0 starts; 0 receptions, 0 yards; 3 carries, 72 yards, 0 TDs; 1.5% of Off Snaps
Ken: Campanaro had a solid year as a punt returner and there was a Twitter campaign to get him to the Pro Bowl. On a per-punt-return basis, his career stats are very similar to Jermaine Lewis:
Campanaro: 11.4 YPR, 2.7% TDs
Lewis: 11.8 YPR, 2.6% TDs
However, Campy has returned only 37 punts in 4 years (slightly over 1.5 per game played) while Lewis returned 2.6 punts per game in his regular season career with the Ravens and played 88 games to just 24 for Campanaro.
He has the solid change-of-direction skills the Ravens could use offensively if they could keep him on the field, but some injury keeps getting in the way. I expect the Ravens to be outbid by other teams.
Dev: The PR value that Camp brought to the team last year is a given. On that alone, you could make the argument that he would be a solid re-sign. Although he’s not a game-breaker, he was consistent, and provided stability to a spot that’s been in a state of flux since the Jacoby Jones days. But Camp is still an intriguing slot receiver with some upside. Mornhinweg played around with Camp as a move guy at times, working out of the backfield, in addition to lining up inside. Overall, he flashed the ability to get open, but you have to wonder if he’d thrive in a different system that really emphasizes the inside route tree. Between injuries and the inability to jump ahead on the depth chart, Camp just hasn’t been able to put it together in his time in Baltimore.
Cap Implications/Costs: Initially tendered with a 1-year, $1.797M RFA tender, Campanaro agreed to a lesser $1.2M deal which included $800K in incentives. While Campanaro didn’t really have much of an impact on offense, he did play in 13 games (a huge improvement) and proved his worth as a punt returner. Campanaro’s injury history likely means that he won’t command more than a 1-year deal similar to the one he signed last April. Given that he’s from Howard County and the Ravens’ seeming affection for him, it’s very possible a return is in order.
Tony’s Take: Right player, right price. Campanaro fills a need as a shifty slot guy with the ability to return punts. But some team with more cap space and the ingenuity to use him more creatively, will dig a little deeper into their pocket for Camp’s skills than the Ravens will. Maybe Cleveland will be a landing spot. There, Camp can take his well-documented man-crush on LeBron James to new heights.
TE Crockett Gillmore (UFA)
2017 Key Stats: Spent the entire 2017 season on Injured Reserve (IR)
2016 Key Stats: 7 games, 5 starts; 8 receptions, 71 yards, 1 TD; 21.66% of Off Snaps.
Ken: Gillmore’s switch to OL is one of the fascinating offseason stories. At 6’6”, he will probably be a tackle. Jeff Zrebiec has reported his agent claims (I don’t like 2nd-hand reporting, but this is 3rd) he’s up to 305 lbs. That’s probably an exaggeration given it came from an agent, but even at that weight, he’d have to make his living with his feet as a pass protection specialist. He’s 27 and has a history of shoulder issues, which is not an optimal spot to begin an OL career. However, you have to love the fact he’s trying to salvage his career with offseason work. Breshad Perriman should take note. Crockett has probably played his last down as a Raven, but it would not shock me if he emerges in another uniform.
Dev: There isn’t anything to say regarding Gillmore’s performance last season. Overall, he’s always had tantalizing TE talent given his size and sneaky ability to get separation on deeper layer routes. The 2015 season gave a decent glimpse of what he can do as a TE. But the switch to OL is intriguing on a number of levels. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this – Jason Peters made the switch from TE to LT but that was much earlier in his career. At best, he could provide value as a project who could make an impact in future years.
Cap Implications/Costs: Gillmore played the 2017 season on the last year of his rookie deal. Given his position change, he’s likely to only receive a 1-year minimum salaried, “prove it” deal.
Tony’s Take: Since being selected with the 99th overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, a pick heavily influenced by Gary Kubiak, Gillmore has played in just 32 of a possible 64 regular season games. When healthy he’s shown the ability to contribute as a blocker and in the passing game. Given the Ravens’ apparent need at tight end, it’s interesting to hear of his intent to become a full-time offensive lineman. It’s the same career change that 6-time Pro Bowl tackle Joe Staley made in college at Central Michigan University. Staley added 80 pounds to his 6’5” from without losing footspeed. If Gillmore can do the same, it could be a career-saving move. He’ll get the opportunity at the vet-minimum but the question is where. Might Kubiak come calling again and bring the Colorado State Ram back to Mile High city?
OL James Hurst (UFA)
2017 Key Stats: 16 games, 16 starts; 100% of Off Snaps.
2016 Key Stats: 15 games, 3 starts; 26.6% of Off Snaps
Ken: Hurst’s solid 2017 season showed he was out of position at tackle. Each time he’s been asked to fill in at tackle has been a failure including 1 game there in 2017 (Green Bay, .55 raw score). As a guard he proved he could handle the pulling responsibilities while playing next to a center who anchors well, but he was also flagged 6 times (4 holding and 2 false starts). In 977 scored snaps at G, I recorded him for 12 pressures, 5 QH, and 1.17 sacks. That’s 38% fewer pressures + QHs per play than Skura and 61% fewer sacks. One issue the Ravens have is that neither of their 2017 guards is an earth mover. If Jensen is lost, the Ravens will want another physical player to help power the run game (Eluemunor and Siragusa are both candidates), which may reduce the likelihood the Ravens will re-sign Hurst, even if Jensen signs elsewhere.
Dev: Among the positives of the 2017 season was seeing Hurst finally come into his own as a starter in this league. He fit well in Greg Roman’s scheme as a puller and trap blocker, especially when the team established their outside runs from the gun. If you look back at the damage Alex Collins did from those formations, you’ll see Hurst as the key catalyst springing him loose. It was a night and day shift from the 2016 season when the perimeter run game was a mess.
Cap Implications/Costs: Hurst’s switch to Guard may have just saved his career and likely made him a decent chunk of change. Hurst certainly isn’t going to break the bank in free agency, but he proved that he can be serviceable starter. With 6 interior linemen under contract for 2018, it remains to be seen if the Ravens would be willing to pay market value for Hurst.
Tony’s Take: Hurst was awful as a tackle in the NFL but developed into a decent guard beside a player (Jensen) who anchors well at the point of attack. Some team is likely to reward Hurst more handsomely than the Ravens. He’ll move on and someone else will fill his role on the depth chart. Let’s keep in mind the expected returns of Yanda, Siragusa and Lewis from injury. Thanks for the memories.
C Ryan Jensen (UFA)
2017 Key Stats: 16 games, 16 starts; 100% of Off Snaps.
2016 Key Stats: 7 games, 3 starts; 24% of Off Snaps
Ken: He’s the Ravens most significant free agent and provided the physical presence the Ravens have lacked at center since Birk retired. His offseason conditioning was broadly reported in terms of increased weight and reduced body fat. Ryan was not penalized again after 3 holding flags in week 1. He was also able to correct issues he had with his shotgun snaps at midseason. Some would say he worked hard in a contract year. However, projected from the most positive point of view, his conditioning and on-the-fly corrections may be indicative of a player who will evolve as a technician with play/age and allow him to stay ahead of the aging curve for longer. He’ll be expensive and I expect the Ravens will be outbid.
Dev: Jensen had a banner season. In fact, even when Yanda was healthy, you could have certainly made the argument that Jensen was the Ravens’ best linemen (in terms of pure performance) from the preseason through the first quarter of the season. He continued to excel all season long. Not only did he provide much-needed power to drive defenders off the ball, he also sustained his blocks. Obviously, one of Jensen’s strengths is his aggressiveness, which can also be his downfall at times. However, he played disciplined football for the most part, eliminated a lot of the mental mistakes, and came into his own at the center spot. The question is, should the Ravens allocate a nice chunk of their cap to a player who isn’t an elite-level talent? It’s tough because the team has needs elsewhere and can probably manage by moving Matt Skura over to C or drafting someone – those are the tough cap decisions teams have to make.
Cap Implications/Costs: Jensen played the 2017 season under the $1.797M RFA contract tender. Jensen’s strong 2017 season means that he will likely command a contract in the $7-9M per year range. While that may seem excessive for Jensen, he’s certainly picked the right time to have his breakthrough season and is now set to cash in as a free agent. If the Ravens weren’t willing to pay top of the market money for Guard Kelechi Osemele and Tackle Rick Wagner, both better players, it seems unlikely they will for Jensen.
Tony’s Take: Jensen is physical and brings a mean streak to the offensive front while playing to the whistle, and sometimes even beyond. But like others before him (Osemele and Wagner) the Ravens will be outbid. After the season, rumors swirled that Jensen would test the open market. He may give the Ravens a chance to match any offers but such offers will be too rich for the Ravens and their limited budget. And let’s not forget that the Ravens thought so much of Jensen during the summer that they brought in familiar face and washed-up retread, Jeremy Zuttah. The risk here is that maybe Jensen is a one-year wonder, the beneficiary of the Roman-D’Alessandris approach, or both. That means another team could overpay and it also means that with such top-end coaching, less expensive labor can produce similar results.
LB Steve Johnson (UFA)
2017 Key Stats: 10 games, 0 starts; 0% of Def Snaps, 49.79% of ST snaps.
Ken: He’s a 30-year-old special teams linebacker who was a Raven in 2017 because he had 7 career starts at ILB with Denver. The Ravens require better depth options at ILB in 2018.
Dev: Not much to see here.
Cap Implications/Costs: Signed as a free agent in mid-October, Johnson played on a 1-year, $615K deal. Johnson is probably in line for the same type of deal in 2018, but will probably have to wait until after the draft to find a home.
Tony’s Take: His four special teams tackles will not be missed. The Ravens will look to get younger and more versatile at inside linebacker.
QB Ryan Mallett (UFA)
2017 Key Stats: 2 games, 0 starts.
2016 Key Stats: 4 games, 0 starts.
Ken: This is a position where the Ravens have traditionally gone cheap since 2001 when Cunningham backed up Grbac. There is a reasonable chance the Ravens will draft a developmental QB this year, which could squeeze out Mallett. Even with his 2017 play and system familiarity he’s just one of the options the Ravens can consider.
Dev: Mallett has clearly regressed since he took over for Flacco at the end of the 2015 season. Not that he was ever the second coming of Drew Brees, but at the minimum, you’d have some confidence that he could come in and start for short-term purposes. However, if you can’t even trust your backup QB to get the job done for 1-2 games, you have a problem. The Ravens need to explore other options.
Cap Implications/Costs: Mallett played the 2017 season under a 1-year, $2M deal. As far as veteran back-up Quarterbacks go, that’s about as cheap as they come. If Mallett returns, it will probably be on a similar deal.
Tony’s Take: If the Ravens are forced to hand the reins of the offense over to Ryan Mallett, their season is done. He’s not a very good quarterback and as such, even at a bargain rate, it’s a better long-term move to develop a younger player here, whether that be with an early Day 3 draft pick or Josh Woodrum. It’s time to at least prepare for the post-Flacco era and moving on from Mallett is a good place to start.
DE Brent Urban (UFA)
2017 Key Stats: 3 games, 3 starts, 12 games on IR; 11.25% of Def Snaps.
2016 Key Stats: 16 games, 0 starts; 14.33% of Def Snaps.
Ken: Urban and Henry are the best interior pass rush options currently on the Ravens roster. They complement each other well in terms of both push and height. Henry has proven to be durable and was paired inside with Za’Darius Smith on the bulk of passing downs. That still leaves the Ravens thin without Urban or another draft option. The recovery time (to optimal play, not first play) of Urban’s Lisfranc injury may make it difficult to structure a contract for 2018 and the Ravens would do well to pursue a 2-year deal so they can harvest more play value in 2019. Brent was off to an outstanding 2017 season before the injury. He played 117 of 145 defensive snaps before he was hurt (80.6%), but every one of the Ravens 10 turnovers and 8 sacks prior to his injury occurred with him on the field.
Dev: Urban was poised for a breakout season at DE. His snaps the year prior (in 2016) were highly productive. As an interior rusher, he’s simply impossible to block at times, and he’s especially good when he’s able to provide a pure rush in clear passing situations. He’s arguably the team’s most disruptive defensive lineman, period. There really is no reason why he shouldn’t be brought back, especially given that this defense is sorely in need of consistent interior push.
Cap Implications/Costs: Urban played 2017 under the final year of his rookie contract. Coming off of another season ended by injury, Urban is probably looking at signing a 1-year minimum salary deal, which may include incentives that would pay him more if he can finally stay healthy and productive.
Tony’s Take: During his four seasons as a Raven, Urban has dressed just 25 times on Sundays in Baltimore. He’s a regular on the injury report but his athleticism and ability to disrupt as a five-tech defender is very appealing. The Ravens will do their best to structure an incentive-laden deal to retain this Canuck.
WR Mike Wallace (UFA)
2017 Key Stats: 15 games, 14 starts; 52 receptions, 748 yards, 4 TDs; 65.81% of Off Snaps.
2016 Key Stats: 16 games, 16 starts; 72 receptions, 1017 yards, 4 TDs; 76.98% of Off Snaps.
Ken: Wallace will be 32 in August and just had a 25% reduction in yards per game on a team with limited receiving options. It will be difficult to construct a responsible multi-year contract and the Ravens are so constrained they are going to have to make a general choice about where to spend their limited draft and cap capital. The biggest decision will be OL vs WR. If the Ravens re-sign Jensen, they are far less likely to sign Wallace, but may prioritize WR higher in the draft. If they sign Wallace or Torrey Smith, don’t be surprised if they take an OT in round 1.
Dev: Sometimes numbers lie, but they really don’t in the case of Mike Wallace. The drastic drop-off in production from 2016 to 2017 can certainly be attributed to a more conservative offense that was flat-out miserable at times at the beginning of the season, but Wallace wasn’t nearly as effective either. He dropped some balls, wasn’t able to win at the line of scrimmage, and didn’t provide any ability to gain yards after contact. Still, it’s undeniable that Wallace and Flacco have chemistry, and the duo was much better in the second half of the season. He can still run. And he has surprisingly stepped up as a leader for the offense. If he’s your No.3 option, that’s totally fine depending on who your top two targets are. In that respect, if the Ravens can land a go-to TE and another quality receiver, Wallace could fit in nicely in a complementary role.
Cap Implications/Costs: Wallace played 2017 under the final year of his 2-year, $11.5M deal signed in 2016. It will be interesting to see what kind of contract offers Wallace receives. Wallace’s 2017 season certainly did not live up to the promise shown in 2016, but he may well still be one of the top deep threat WRs available in free agency, especially if Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins are franchised. Wallace’s market value is probably similar to the same contract he signed in 2016.
Tony’s Take: If Breshad Perriman had shown signs of development in 2017, Wallace is likely an afterthought. But Perriman regressed instead and with the expected release of Jeremy Maclin that leaves just Perriman, Chris Moore, Devier Posey, Tim White and Quincy Adeboyejo on the roster. Wallace’s numbers fell off last season but his leadership is of value and if not for several underthrown deep passes his stats would have improved dramatically from his 52/748/4 stat line. The Ravens should ink Wallace to a deal similar to that signed by Maclin in 2017.
TE Benjamin Watson (UFA)
2017 Key Stats: 16 games, 12 starts; 61 receptions, 522 yards, 4 TDs; 64.52% of Off Snaps.
2016 Key Stats: Spent the entire 2016 season on Injured Reserve.
Ken: The thing to like about Watson is his high catch rate (77%), but he did not do much down the field or after the catch (8.6 YPC). I look at Watson 2017 as being similar to Pitta’s 2016 season (86 catches, 8.5 YPC). He’s one of the most mature and grounded athletes you’ll ever hear speak, but I suspect Watson will retire before he plays another down.
Dev: Watson still has some juice left. He was able to show separation on second-layer routes (behind the LBs, in front of the safeties), and defenses made a concentrated effort to take those routes away after the first quarter of the season. However, once he became part of the check-down parade, it was clear that Watson wasn’t able to bring much value as a YAC guy. He was often tackled immediately in space. Ultimately, what Watson brings is reliable hands and route running, which is a major value, especially in the red area. But he’s clearly a No.2 TE at this point in his career.
Cap Implications/Costs: Watson returned from a 2016 season lost to injury and showed that he could still play. That said, at age 37, it appears that Watson is considering calling it a career. If he decides against retirement, Watson is probably looking at a 1-year deal worth around $1M.
Tony’s Take: Despite his age, Watson can be productive in a reserve role at the right number. But the right number for the Ravens is likely not an attractive enough one to entice Watson to take the field for his 15th season. He will either move on to his fifth NFL employer or he’ll ride off into the sunset of retirement. Hopefully he’ll remain a strong league and community spokesman. Just a terrific guy whose contributions off the field may one day be greater than those on it
RB Terrance West (UFA)
2017 Key Stats: 5 games, 4 starts, 10 games inactive (6 as healthy scratch); 39 carries, 138 yards, 2 TDs; 6.08% of Off Snaps.
2016 Key Stats: 16 games, 13 starts; 193 carries, 774 yards; 34 receptions, 236 yards, 6 TDs; 39.1% of Off Snaps
Ken: I don’t see any reason the Ravens are likely to keep West. Below average YPC, a high fumble rate, cost, and age are all reasons. Said otherwise, the Ravens should be able to get younger and better for cheaper.
Dev: West quickly became the forgotten cog of the running-back-by-committee the Ravens featured at the beginning of the 2017 season. Even when he was healthy, West wasn’t able to capitalize on his opportunity in Roman’s run scheme. West lacks the burst to hit the hole quickly and he isn’t a runner who only needs a small crack to make something happen. If you look back at West’s most effective runs, it’s when he’s had monster-sized lanes to work with. In addition, he doesn’t offer change-of-direction to make guys miss. Overall, he’s a decent short-yardage back who’s proven to be effective in goal-line situations when he doesn’t dance. The Ravens can move on without thinking twice.
Cap Implications/Costs: West played the 2017 season under the $1.797M RFA contract tender. Needless to say, the 2017 season did not work out as West expected. It would seem that West’s time in Baltimore is over and wherever he signs, he’s likely going to have to accept a 1-year, “prove it” deal.
Tony’s Take: After sustaining a calf injury in Oakland on October 8, West never played in another game. He missed 6 games as a healthy scratch and was only active during 1 game (v. Colts) for the balance of the season. He offers nothing to special teams and even if the Ravens move on from Danny Woodhead, the RB-rich draft will provide better options in the passing game than West. With Alex Collins, Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon all set to return, West will be seeking a new employer but given his lack of versatility, you have to wonder if the former Towson Tiger’s future in the NFL has come to a screeching halt.